Living and Wellness Common Contributors to Back Pain By Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, June 29, 2014 Back pain is a common complaint for many Americans. In fact, at any given time, more than 30 million Americans experience low back pain. Fortunately, some back pain is avoidable with a few simple lifestyle adjustments. Gwendolyn Sowa, MD, PhD, lists five common contributors to back pain and tips on how to avoid them. 1. Sedentary Lifestyle The amount of physical activity the average person receives has decreased. Americans spend an average of seven to nine hours at a desk, five days a week. An increasing amount of time is spent hunched over computers and other technologies, causing pain in the back and shoulders. Dr. Sowa recommends staying active as much as possible during the work day and paying attention to your posture. Sit up straight with shoulders back, or consider sitting on a large core exercise ball. 2. Lifting Even if the object doesn’t appear heavy, improper lifting techniques can result in back strain and pain. Rushing to pick up an item or underestimating its weight when trying to lift it can lead to an increased risk of injury. Dr. Sowa recommends bending your knees, holding your core muscles tight, avoiding twisting, and maintaining good posture while lifting. Always ask for assistance when needed. 3. Weight Being overweight, especially if you carry the weight in your midsection, can add to the strain placed on your body — particularly your back and spine — contributing to low back pain. Dr. Sowa suggests shedding extra pounds through better nutrition and increased physical activity. It’s important to know that even if you don’t see a change on the scale, your pain may decrease. 4. Smoking Not only is smoking connected to an increased risk of developing heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer, studies also show an increased occurrence of back pain. Dr. Sowa recommends working with your doctor to quit smoking. Smoking cessation may result in improved health overall and a reduction of chronic back pain. 5. Mood Recent studies have shown a connection between back pain and depression and anxiety. This doesn’t mean the pain you might be experiencing is made up, but rather there is a physiological link between the pain you are experiencing and the depression or anxiety. Dr. Sowa recommends seeking treatment for the depression or anxiety you are feeling. It is possible that when you treat those the back pain will decrease. Consult a doctor any time moderate to severe pain is present, or if the back pain is accompanied by new weakness, numbness, or bowel or bladder changes.